The History of the Parka Jacket

June 3, 2013

It’s always interesting to find out the history behind a new favourite piece of clothing. Even the ‘newest trends’ like printed summer parkas have a historic background. The parka, often referred to as an anorak, is defined as a type of ‘heavy’ jacket with hood (although the one I’ve fallen in love with, over here, is most definitely not a ‘heavy’ design).

The parka is historically lined with fur or faux fur and is designed to keep the face protected from strong wind and cold temperatures. This design of jacket was first designed by the Caribou Inuit (from Northern Cana’s Keewatin Region) who used seal and caribou skin to keep themselves warm whilst kayaking or hunting in the freezing Arctic. These original forms of parka jacket needed to be regularly covered in fish oil to help them keep a water resistance.

There is some confusion between the parka and the anorak, as strictly speaking they should be considered different garments. The anorak is usually waterproof without a front opening, it pulls on like a jacket and can have drawstrings at the cuffs and waist to keep water out. A parka is usually thicker with a knee length and stuffed with synthetic fibres or natural down.


When it comes to the most unusual parka designs, I love the Inuit Amuati coat, which is worn by women in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. It’s cleverly designed so that up until about the age of two, a child can nestle in the coat against the baby’s back. The coats large hood basically has a built-in baby holder! The mother can swing the baby round from the back to the front for feeding or keeping cuddled in further away from the harsh elements. They typically have quite a pretty design too, in bright colours with interesting tribal pattern accents. The jacket is designed not only to protect the child from frostbite but provides a wonderful way for mother and child to bond – not exactly something taken into consideration by high-street coats here!

Whilst the parka and anorak are designed to be highly functional. These jackets have cultural symbolism too. Remember the 90’s when Oasis and Blur battled it out in the charts? Both bands favoured this coat and have come to be synonymous with the masculine take on this item.

Lightweight parkas are a music festival essential too – sometimes called ‘Cagoules’. You can never quite tell if the Great British weather will be in your favour, even in the summer… so a waterproof parka is certainly a must-pack (hence my purchase). Cagoule’s refer to those designs which can be rolled up tightly and carried in your handbag or another coat pocket. You can forget grungy shades of green and brown however, girly patterned parkas are in – with floral and animal prints the favourite parka look this season. Camouflage inspired parkas are also popular for festival goers and campers who want to embrace the great outdoors when it’s less than sunny outside!

Disclosure: This post was a PR Collaboration with New Look.

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